We came back to Thailand specifically to participate in a Thai celebration that turned out to be the most fun and unusual holiday we’ve ever experienced. It was completely worth the return trip!
In mid April, some of the southeast Asian countries celebrate their new year. In Thailand, it is referred to as songkran. What was once a humble Buddhist celebration that involved the ritual bathing of buddha statues with scented water has evolved into a 4-day countrywide massive water fight (unless you’re in Chiang Mai where it can stretch into a whole week).
When visiting Thailand during songkran, you don’t leave your lodging unless you’re wearing clothes that you’ll be comfortable getting soaked in. Most locals and tourists carry small plastic bags that will accommodate money and their cell phone. Only the elderly (although many of them join in, too) and some of the monks are spared. Pretty much any time of the day you can expect to be doused.
Don’t worry. Thailand is usually very hot this time of year, so you’ll probably appreciate the cooling down.
Homes and businesses will often have large buckets of water, children’s pools, etc., filled with water by the road. The children are usually armed with bowls and water guns while the adults enlist large buckets to drench passersby. Some of them don’t bother with buckets and just shoot you with water from a hose.
Watch out for pickup trucks, too. Passengers in the back are only too happy to soak people as they drive by.
The holiday can also involve dressing up in floral shirts, wearing masks, and even cross dressing. Basically the idea of songkran is to have fun. And the Thais go out of their way to make sure it is a blast. No pun intended.
In addition to being drenched with water, some Thais will “bless you” by putting a mixture of flour or talcum powder, water, and possibly menthol on your face. The cheeks are the best for this. If they put it on your forehead, when you get water dumped over your head your eyes are going to be unhappy.
Different cities and towns have their own special nuances. Bangkok, being a very large city, is probably more sedate and has official water fight areas, as well as a long list of other rules (which may or may not be ignored).
Chiang Mai really gets into it and is probably the most fun spot in all of Thailand for celebrating songkran. Part of the city is surrounded by a moat which makes refilling your weapon of choice much easier. Even the police are known to get into water battles with people.
We chose Ayutthaya for our songkran experience. We wanted a less-crowded town that was more laid back. Ayutthaya is also home to some UNESCO World Heritage sites, so we had great places to explore before the festivities began. One of the main reasons we headed there, though, was because elephants join the celebration. It sounded like too much fun to be able to participate in a citywide water fight and to get sprayed by elephants.
We made the right choice for sure.
Songkran is easily the most fun and unusual holiday we’ve ever experienced. There are no strangers. Everyone in the city are friends, gleefully celebrating together, dancing together in the streets, and splashing and shooting people with water as much as they can. I walked around with a huge smile on my face the whole day. And I wasn’t alone. Tigger and I both agree that more cultures need to celebrate songkran. I’ve never seen a whole city come together like this to just celebrate and be joyous together. Happy new year indeed!
What is the most fun holiday or festival you’ve experienced?